“Holiness Will Cost You Your Life”
Why am I going on mission?
I have never been homesick before. But on a slow Sunday in the early evening, I sit in the quiet sunshine and I miss my friends; I miss my sister; I miss my home city. And, inevitably, my thoughts wander, get lost, and find themselves at the question: w h y ?
Why am I here, and not there? Why am I with these people, and not those? Why am I living like this, and not that?
I ask these questions from my new home, Casa San Salvador in Washington, D.C. I am here for Franciscan Mission Service’s overseas lay mission Formation program. And I am only in the first stage of my separation from home — really, only the preliminaries before leaving for two years in Latin America.
Of course, I know why I am here and how I got here. But it can be so easy to second-guess it all in moments of vulnerability. And of course, I am not the only one who asks these questions of why. Many family members, friends, acquaintances, and strangers in the grocery store ask me similar variations of the question “Why are you doing this?” With a fresh bachelor’s degree and applicable work experience, why am I straying from the status quo path of ordinary “work”?
I can give a multitude of reasons, varying in degree of wholeness and in accordance with what I think each person wants to hear me say. Such as:
“Going on mission is actually great preparation for my professional goals of working in the nonprofit sector, giving me the opportunity to gain a new perspective in the work of volunteerism and servant leadership.”
Or, “Going on international mission will challenge the way I think about and use language, thus providing me with learning opportunities about communication that I can use in my writing and communications profession.”
Now, these answers are true. I would love to work in the nonprofit sector and I would love to write in a communications department. And the skills I learn on mission will definitely help me in those professional areas. But if I’m being honest, I am not doing any of this for professional development, and this reason certainly goes beyond a mere desire to “travel.” St. Peter writes that we should be ready, and unafraid, to answer to anyone where our hope comes from (1 Peter 3:15), and subsequently to answer: why am I going?
If you want the short version, you may stop after this paragraph, because truthfully, it can all be summed up like this: I have been so greatly and personally loved by the Lord that I must respond with boldness. He has called me to return that love through service with His most marginalized people. I am seeking to receive His love more fully and give His love more fully.
There is, of course, a story behind this. Because, I believe that everything that has happened in my life thus far has led me to this exact moment. I believe that I have been called to this exact mission. I believe that the Lord has been preparing me for this exact mission. I believe that He will lead me through [t]His mission.
Therefore, this story really begins at my birth and my baptism… However, I will spare the reader and jump ahead to a starting point that I believe is most meaningful: meeting the Lord in a personal and intimate way at university (this meeting of the Lord is a long testimony in and of itself, and so again, I will spare the reader in this sharing for now). In the course of this experience, I was told, “Once you encounter the Holy Spirit, you cannot leave unchanged. You will either turn away in fear and hate, or you will seek Him evermore and in love.” It was through a series of life-changing experiences (small acts of faith and repetitive and abundant gifts of grace) that the Lord revealed His face, called me by name, and said to me, “I love you and I will use you.” Therefore, I have been seeking Him evermore and in love.
In addition to this larger conversion, throughout my time at university, I remained passionately engaged with social justice issues. My studies in international relations only further revealed to me the great divides, heartbreaks, inequalities, oppressions, and disregards of human life worldwide across humanity. Mission trips to inner-city Detroit opened my eyes to the deep divorces, suffering, inequities, and needs for more respect of human life a mere six miles from the front door of the home where I grew up in. My lifelong “bleeding heart” compelled me to seek out a way in which I could do something — anything.
Through my international relations studies, I was presented with an opportunity to study abroad and serve a local nonprofit in Meknes, Morocco for a semester. This trip became a symbol for me. In my own mind it combined my passions (international travel, new cultures, service, and education) with what I thought the world needed (a naive white girl in the Middle East “saving people “ — clearly a perception that would change). And so, I worked tirelessly for this goal. I worked an insane number of hours to save every cent for this trip. I told everyone I met, “I am going to Morocco.”
Approximately 10 months before I would leave, I heard the Lord ever so quietly and gently whisper to my heart in prayer: “Think about Morocco again, SarahJane.” I did not take this well. I was confused, bitter, and stubborn. I refused to offer this up to Him because I could not understand why He would want to take away such a great opportunity — an opportunity to serve His people and to advance my career. And, of course, an opportunity that I already told everyone I was taking.
Thankfully, my solid Christian support system around me helped me to loosen my fingers from the grip I held on Morocco, and I opened my palms and turned them up to the Lord. And in this process, I realized that I had made these plans without considering Him at all. I did not discern or seek His will. I wanted to go on this trip by myself and for myself. The Lord, in His great wisdom, challenged me to look around at where He had placed me in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
He had given me a faith community and a family that was far beyond anything I had even dreamed about praying for. At a retreat a few months after His initial stirring, He ultimately convicted my heart to stay in Grand Rapids, continue my studies at Grand Valley State University, and plant roots in that community. He definitively spoke to my heart, “Not yet, SarahJane.” I didn’t know what giving up Morocco meant or what that would look like. But I experienced such freedom and peace in my heart upon saying yes to His will, and I went forward with confidence.
He sent me on a mission right there in Grand Rapids to grow and to be formed in the faith, to establish deep relationships with my brothers and sisters in Christ — learning what it meant to love others and seek Him exactly where I was. In my “yes,” He returned to me tenfold what I had given Him. He blessed me with fantastic job opportunities, with inspiring Catholic roommates, with friends that called me on to live more radically for Him, and with a community that became family.
Rooted in His love, convicted by His will, and established in my faith, I was living bountifully in my final year of university. The questions of what to do after graduation began stirring within me, but with little to no anxiety (much to my surprise). It was on a retreat during that Fall of my senior year that the Lord filled me with an overwhelming sense of peace and placed in my heart the Blessed Mother Mary’s call from the Lord in Luke 1:37–39.
“Our Lady Mary was a true missionary because she was not afraid to be the handmaid of the Lord. She went in haste to put her beautiful humility into a living action of love, to do the handmaid’s work for Elizabeth. We know what this humility obtained for the unborn child: he ‘leapt with joy’ in the womb of his mother- the first human being to recognize the coming of Christ; and then the mother of the Lord sang with joy, with gratitude, and praise.” — St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta
Upon meditating on Luke 1:37–39 and on St. Mother Teresa’s words about the Holy Mother, I began to truly consider a possible call to mission. I looked around at my life in Grand Rapids and took note. Accepting the Lord’s love, letting it change me, and giving my life to Him had drastically transformed everything from the way I saw myself to how I chose to live. And my passions for justice did not just not disappear — they grew. I was deeply disturbed by the disregard of my fellow human beings in the world and in my neighborhood, and even more deeply disturbed by my own inaction in sharing the love of the Lord to those neighbors.
I was reminded of the Lord’s words to me: “I love you and I will use you,” and, “Not yet” (in regards to Morocco). These prophetic words, brought to the forefront of my mind by the Holy Spirit, pushed me to begin researching for mission opportunities through Catholic Volunteer Network. I knew a few things for certain: I desired to live my Catholic identity to its fullest, I needed intentional community, and I wanted fulfill my longing for new cultures by serving outside of the United States. Sifting through mission statements and testimonies of multiple organizations, I continually returned to an organization called Franciscan Mission Service (FMS) and their overseas lay mission program. In complete honesty, I can only say it was the Holy Spirit that continuously guided me back to look at FMS (in retrospect, I can now see how many aspects of my life are in accordance with Franciscanism and this organization — but hindsight is always 20/20).
Contrary to my normal temperament of anxious-hyper-over-planning, I found myself to be utterly peaceful leading up to my application to the overseas lay missionary program. I researched many other writing jobs in Grand Rapids and Detroit, asking the Lord in prayer if I should apply to them… and found myself (peacefully) sending out a single application during my last semester of college. My final sentences of that first application to FMS were: “I know that, God willing, if I embark on this mission it will be the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life thus far. And while this scares me, I know that for this very reason is also why I need to go.”
Throughout each of the following three stages of application and discernment, I became more and more certain that this where the Lord was calling me to be. I prayed fervently: “Lord, make your will the desire of my heart.” When I finally came to D.C. for FMS’ three-day Discernment Days program (including interviews, an overview of the program, and an introduction to intentional community) I felt nothing but overwhelming peace. I searched high and low for the flood of conviction and the flashing-lights arrow saying, “This is it!” like I had experienced when the Lord called me away from Morocco. At first, I was disappointed and questioned whether I was called to FMS and to mission at all.
As I sat in the gardens at the Franciscan Monastery in D.C. I felt so at ease. I thought about the peaceful confidence the disciples had when Jesus called them. He said, “Come.” They dropped their nets and went (Luke 5:10–11, Matthew 4:19–20). I felt fearful — scared of the two-year commitment, scared of leaving my friends and family, scared that the work would be hard, and scared I wouldn’t be able to do any of it. I knew that I was on the cusp of a life-altering decision. And yet, I felt compelled to say “yes.” There was apprehension, but I just kept saying: “I love you, Lord. How can I not go?”
I realized that I had spent so much of my life living solely for myself. If the Lord was calling me to give him at minimum two years to devote myself entirely to sharing His Gospel through mission with FMS, how could I say no? I left D.C. after those discernment days in confident peace. I left praying: “Lord, if you keep this door open, I will walk through it.”
Approximately one week before graduating from Grand Valley State University, I received a phone call from FMS offering me a spot in their 33rd class of overseas lay missioners. I immediately responded with joyful confidence, “Yes.”
Now that I am here, in the Formation program, studying Scripture and the writings of the Saints; preparing myself mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and physically; discerning the country and my mission; and simply being challenged to grow and know the Lord more intimately, I’m continuously reminded of the simple but honest truth: Holiness will cost you your life. I was told that once during a talk at my campus ministry’s prayer meeting in college. I wrote it down and forgot about it until returning to old journals since being here.
I have been reflecting on Mark 10:29–30 since arriving and realizing how much I need to grow in radical trust and dependence on the Lord. It is certainly one thing to say, “I trust Him,” or “I give my life to you, God,” or even “I love you with all my heart.” It is quite another thing to put that into living action. Holiness will cost you your life. It takes every ounce of my soul and every fiber of being to wake up each morning and rest in the truth of Mark 10:29–30. Then I go through my day here (studying, praying, living in community) and the Holy Spirit reminds me how much more the Lord loves me, and how much more He has sacrificed for me. I realize my home is in Him. My joy is in Him. My source of love is in Him. My identity is in in Him. All I have and everything I am is in Him. And that is why I am here.